Chloe Smith urged to stop lobbying firms hiring MPs and peers
PAN has seen a letter sent to the minister by the Association of Professional Political Consultants.
Public affairs industry bosses have called on newly-appointed minister for the constitution Chloe Smith to look into "ethically questionable" lobbying appointments.
APPC chairman Paul Bristow has sent a 1,220 word letter to Smith following Theresa May’s recent reshuffle, during which the prime minister named an all-new ministerial team to the Cabinet Office.
Smith previously served in the Cabinet Office as minister for political and constitutional reform from 2012 to 2013. In the new role, the Norwich North MP is once again responsible for constitutional policy and democracy as well as propriety, ethics and transparency.
Writing on behalf of the 72 lobbying firms that make up the APPC, Bristow claimed that the body had taken radical measures to clean up the industry since scandals in the 1990s. "The reputation of lobbying has been transformed thanks in large part to the professionalism and exacting ethical standards that APPC insists of its members," he stated.
But he also expressed frustration over parliamentarians taking paid roles with public affairs firms that refuse to sign up to the APPC’s code of conduct.
"It’s frustrating when stories are covered in the media which purport to involve lobbyists but more often than not are media stings targeting ex-ministers or latterly concern sitting peers taking up positions in third party lobbying firms that undertake political lobbying," wrote Bristow.
"As I mentioned above, no APPC member firm can employ the services of a sitting peer. However, there are non-APPC firms who do. I know I am not the only person to feel deeply uncomfortable when a lobbyist and a legislator are one and the same person. It’s clearly conflict of interest and is something that APPC members believe is both ethically questionable and provides a competitive advantage to firms who choose not to comply with the rigorous standards of the APPC’s code.
"With this in mind I’d be keen to explore what more the House authorities might consider doing to limit the possibility of parliamentarians using their legislative influence to take up paid lobbying roles for outside third party interests."
The APPC chairman did not name any parliamentarians in his letter, but industry sources said they viewed Conservative MP Bob Neill and James Duddridge as among the "worst offenders". Neill is a senior adviser at Cratus Communications, while Duddridge works for Brand Communications. There was also outrage when Tulchan Communications recently signed up Conservative peer and former Tory party chairman Andrew Feldman as an adviser.
Also in his letter, dated 23 January, Bristow suggested that ministers should do more to probe whether management consultancies, law firms and think tanks should be on the lobbying register alongside public affairs agencies.